Monday, January 28, 2008

AP Interview: Washington official takes reins in Southwest

By SUSAN MONTOYA BRYAN Associated Press Writer

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.—It's his third day on the job as head of the U.S. Forest Service's southwest region, but Corbin Newman has a good idea about what kinds of challenges he and other federal land managers will face in the future.

Population growth and demands on natural resources are high on the list, as they have been for years. The relative newcomer, Newman says, is climate change, which wasn't even on the radar screen a few years ago.

"This is probably one of the bellwether regions where climate change probably was first seen, at least the effects of it on the forest environment," he told the Associated Press in an interview Friday. "We've got to figure out what that means to us.

"The forests that once were here may not be the forests that we have in the future. They need to be different to address whatever that change might bring to us."

And it's not only the Forest Service that's dealing with climate change. Newman said it will be a challenge "for all of us to figure out what does that mean for us and our growth, the water that we might have, the resources available to us and how we use the forest."

Newman, 53, may be new to his office, but he's certainly not new to the Forest Service.

He has more than three decades of experience with the agency and has seen it change over the years.

Newman began his career as a college work-study student on the Arapahoe and Roosevelt national forests in Colorado in the early 1970s. He went on to work as a silviculturist—a person who cares for forest lands—in that state, a public affairs officer in South Dakota, a district ranger in Pennsylvania and a forest supervisor in Michigan.

He also worked as the budget coordinator for the National Forest System in Washington, D.C., and was the coordinator of the National Fire Plan. He has been the national director of forest management since October 2005.

Newman replaces Harv Forsgren as the southwestern regional forester. He's now responsible for more than 22 million acres of forests in New Mexico and Arizona and a pair of national grasslands in Texas and Oklahoma.

For the next year, he wants to get to know the region's forests and the people who manage them, use them and live near their boundaries.

"For me, this is a job about people," he said.

Over the years, Newman has tried several times to get posted in the Southwest. He and his wife, Erin, have vacationed here and he has spent a lot of time in the region implementing the National Fire Plan.

Newman said he loves the landscape and the cultures here.

"This is a dream job for me," he said as he was sitting in his new office with a view of the Sandia Mountains that border Albuquerque's east side. "I can't imagine wanting to do anything else in the outfit."

As he settles in and goes through endless e-mails that have stacked up since he left Washington, he acknowledges that he has a lot to learn. But he also points out that he believes his predecessors have done a good job.

Newman considers the region to be on the cutting edge when it comes to community-based forest management, which involves taking care of the land by taking into consideration the needs of those who use and live on the land.

"You need to bring people together and share your scientific knowledge that you have with others and then figure out what we do with the forest," he said. "I think this region has been one of our leaders in doing that. The way forestry is being done here is what I see as the future of the Forest Service across the country."

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